The border that isn’t

San Francisco trash can. Caution, items may escape.

This weekend in San Francisco I was asked a couple of questions that sort of surprised me and for one reason or another have lingered in my thoughts.

Someone asked me if I was Native American but they meant north of the US border native. It’s a common enough question but still interesting that the border still somehow defines a “regular” Native American person from an indigenous person in Mexico. I recognize no borders when it comes to my pre-European heritage.

Another person after hearing me speak for a few minutes asked me if I was from New Mexico. To this person’s ears my heavy vowel and soft consonant accent reminded them of their family from the region. Do Chicanos in the Bay Area not have accents? Anyways, I explained the accents are similar because they are derived from border languages of Spanish and indigenous dialects that moved west with folks from New Mexico, Arizona, Sonora and Chihuahua. But the accent here in Los Angeles is changing. It’s only the old-timers that speak like George Lopez nowadays. Glad to hear it’s alive and well in the ranchos of New Mexico.

Interesting that both of these simple questions brought up many more issues of identity than I was prepared to deal with at the time. Don’t ask me these kinds of things while I’m enjoying a beer, unless you’re prepared for a brutally honest response or a long, rambling answer.

9 thoughts on “The border that isn’t

  1. soledadenmasa says:

    So, are you saying that L.A. Chicano-speak is moving away from the Edward James Olmos-type into more Spanish-heavy? I’ve thought about this & the differences in speech by older generations and myself (as I am part of the second camp). These kinds of things are interesting to note.

  2. Chimatli says:

    Diego, I’ve been trying to figure out why the accent here is changing. I think there are a few factors.
    First, television and the media are ever present in our lives and in ways they weren’t before. I hear a lot of folks speaking like the people they watch on TV. For lack of a better term, second and third generation Mexicans tend to sound more “white.” The other day I heard a tape of myself talking when I was 16 and my accent is completely different. I actually sound more old school Chicano than I used to. I also realize I switch my accent depending on who I talk to, I know lots of people of color tend to do this unconsciously.
    Hip hop is also a factor. It used to be only in South Central that Chicanos had that familiar urban accent reflective of African-American speech. Now I hear Chicanos all over the city incorporating bits of African-American vernacular and speech into their own.
    Also, immigration from other parts of Mexico and Central America is influencing the Los Angeles accent so that it’s less norteno sounding. And it’s that norteno sound that influenced the pachucos of El Paso and whose influence spread here to Los Angeles.
    I’m fascinated by accents and there is a certain amount of regional differences even amongst Chicanos and Mexicanos here in Los Angeles. One of my dream projects is to go around recording people before we all sound like one homogenized lump of newscasters.

  3. cindylu says:

    There’s a sociolinguist in Chicano studies at UCLA who looks at Chicano speech. I remember he once asked a friend if she was from a certain area in LA (or maybe it was Mexico, who knows). She replied yes and wondered how he knew. He said it was her accent. I was a bit amazed that it could be pinned down that much.

    I’m not sure I know there’s a difference. I always thought the more Olmos/George Lopez was a more working class speech and people who wanted to move on up/college educated folks modified their speech to get rid of their accents.

    I dated this guy who grew up in East LA and didn’t sound like it at all. I didn’t know how he’d take it, but I pointed it out to him. He was familiar with the comment and not offended. It wasn’t that he sounded white or like a surfer. He just didn’t have the East Los accent I heard growing up with my cousins.

  4. dona junta says:

    Interesting topic, sometimes Iam able to tell when someone lived in more inner LA cities like South Central and East La b/c they always had that accent.In San Pedro the Mexicans and Hispanics did not seem to have that accent, maybe because there is a good mix of Italians, Croations, whites,so the accents where not that thick since we where around them in school. Who knows really.

  5. Chimatli says:

    Thanks for your comments and observations!
    Perhaps because I’ve been so conscious of my own accent I pay attention to the subtle differences.
    I actually used to sound very “White,” so much so that some people weren’t even sure I was Latina (despite the obvious). It’s because in high school a good chunk of the people I hung out with were White and for whatever reason I picked up their accent. Then things changed again as I got older.
    One of my old co-workers is Asian and grew up in the same South San Gabriel neighborhood as me. People would often confuse us with each other on the phone.
    I’m curious now about Southeast LA accents, San Pedro accents and Hacienda Heights accents. Maybe it’s time for some fieldwork.

  6. dona junta says:

    yeah the only ones that had the more so called “Hispanic” accent was like the ESL students not that everyone in Pedro was white washed not even, but I guess our accents where not as thick, when I first met my honey he said I sounded white in which I didnt think I did but he was from Compton where there was more immigrant Hispanics and Blacks and in San Pedro the magority of the people are like 2nd and Third Generation Mexicans which have lost most of thier old culture as generations passed.

  7. Candy B. says:

    Sometimes where you grow up has a major influence on the way you speak. I, personally, grew up in Orange County but spent a lot of my time in Compton, Watts and other cities in LA because we would always visit my Tios & Tias. My cousin, Emily, always called me her white cousin, stating that I sounded like a white girl, as opposed to her accent sounding more African American because she grew up in Compton. At times I do find myself “changing” my accent depending on who I talk to (I’m not sure why?!).

  8. Chimatli says:

    Thanks Candy for your observations. I change my accent too depending on who I talk to. It kinda bothers me sometimes because I often don’t realize when I’m doing it.
    I hear White people talk with a Chicano accent sometimes and it really trips me out but if they grow-up with it, it’s just as natural for them as it is for maybe you or I when we sound “White.” ūüôā

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